De Blasio offers a Bloombergian argument for universal pre-K

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Bill de Blasio this afternoon argued that his signature campaign proposal—universal pre-kindergarten—falls squarely within Mayor Michael Bloomberg's record of fostering innovation at the local level.

Reading his remarks from a three-ringed binder to a collection of mayors and policy heads at the Conrad Hotel in lower Manhattan, de Blasio said that in the 21st century, cities "must be the laboratories for reform and the primary problem solvers," and that "Mayor Bloomberg has embraced this mission."

De Blasio, who has run his campaign based on the promise of a move away from 12 years of Bloomberg, hailed the outgoing mayor's 2003 ban of smoking in city bars and restaurants, something de Blasio, like Bloomberg, credited with adding another three years to the average New Yorker's life expectancy and saving some 10,000 lives.

The ban has since been replicated nationwide and around the world.

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De Blasio, who once called Bloomberg's transportation commissioner a "radical," hailed Bloomberg's emphasis on making New York City more bikeable.

"Biking is up 60 percent since 2008," he said, approvingly. "The designs innovated for streets of Chelsea and the East Village are now seen in the protected bike lanes on the National Mall in Washington D.C., on Market Street in San Francisco, and in cities across the country," he said.

He also embraced Bloomberg's post-Hurricane Sandy resiliency plan to strengthen the city's defenses from the next storm.

Universal pre-K is in that very same vein, according to de Blasio, who holds a large lead over his Republican opponent.

"Today, I believe that one of the greatest challenges in need of urban ingenuity is the rise of income inequality and the stunning decline of economic mobility," he said, and he called "free, high-quality, early education to families in need" the "one fundamental solution that will help us address inequality over the long term."

"This is no less of a transformation than the movement for universal high school education that took hold across America in the first half of the twentieth century," he said.

De Blasio has made universal pre-kindergarten the signature proposal in his campaign for mayor, pointing out, like he did today, that "85 percent of brain development occurs before age five." He plans to pay for it by hiking taxes on the wealthy, something that will require Albany approval.

Governor Andrew Cuomo recently convened a bipartisan tax-cutting commission and the specifics of de Blasio's plan are by no means assured. But according to one reporter, Cuomo is anxious not to be seen stymying the next Democratic mayor's progressive agenda, and is looking for a budgetary workaround.

The benefits, according to the public advocate, would be both immediate and long-term.

On "day one," he said, "parents would be better able to work and make a living while their kids learn in a safe environment."

"With the right commitment to this mission, in a few years, we'd begin to see the signs of increased achievement in reading and comprehension in our elementary schools," he went on.

"Within five years, we'd see the benefits borne out in math and English proficiency. In just over a decade, we'd see a transformation in our on-time graduation rate, our college readiness, our workforce preparedness, and reduction in racial achievement disparities. And in the years beyond, we would begin to make a significant dent in the lack of economic mobility that has reached a crisis point in this country and around the world."